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UL quarterback Levi Lewis (1) has gotten more accurate hitting the deep pass plays this season for the Cajuns.

The time the UL Ragin' Cajuns put into a certain area of the passing game over the offseason is paying off now.

Comparing this season’s passing attack for the No. 22 Cajuns to last year’s offers up a lot of similarities.

A year ago, quarterback Levi Lewis completed 59.6% of his 297 passes for 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He averaged 206.7 yards passing a game.

So far this season, Lewis has hit on 61.4% of his 283 passes for 15 touchdowns and four interceptions, averaging 210.8 yards passing a game.

The big emphasis in the offseason, however, was improving the effectiveness of throwing deep balls. The thought was to create more big plays, especially in close contests.

With two games left in the regular season, UL already has more pass plays of 40 yards or more than all of the 2019 or 2020 seasons.

That was certainly the case in the Cajuns’ 35-21 road win over Troy on Saturday. First, Lewis connected with Michael Jefferson on a 52-yard touchdown pass. Later, he hit tight end Neal Johnson on a 40-yard gain to set up another touchdown.

“I thought No. 1 (Lewis) was outstanding on a couple plays tonight,” UL coach Billy Napier said after the win. “To step up and hit the big, deep ball and the fourth-and-9 tuck and run, just really special plays.”

Earlier this season in the Cajuns’ win over Appalachian State, the improvement was evident with a 55-yard pass to Kyren Lacy and a 36-yard connection to Jefferson.

“It means a lot,” Lewis said at the time. “Your work has been paying off just by the offseason and the O-line with the way their protected. They did their job. They made my job easy by the way they protect well and with the receivers running great routes. It’s a good feeling.”

The key part of that quote was “the offseason,” where Lewis and the coaching staff went to work on becoming more proficient with the long ball.

“I think we did quite a bit of research,” Napier said. “We altered how we practiced a little bit — a few things in house relative to creating more opportunities for the quarterback and the receivers. To be honest with you, we spent a lot of time in the offseason on it.”

The process included looking at all the deep balls thrown last season, and analyzing what worked and what didn’t work.

Adding more talent to the receiver room also helped, especially with Jefferson coming over from Alabama State.

“Then I think we’re definitely better at receiver than we’ve ever been — more depth, more speed,” Napier said.

But Lewis' offseason dedication stood out.

“And old No. 1 (Lewis), he’s not bad,” Napier said. “I think that’s an area where he felt like he needed to go to the next level and he worked hard at it.”

In situations like Saturday at Troy, hitting a couple of deep routes opens things up for Lewis to use his legs to run. He had nine carries for 44 yards and a score, including five first downs.

“As we watched film, we saw their defense likes to hunt up deep routes," Lewis said. "I kind of saw I might be able to take off a little bit, but there’s always a feel for the game. I try not to force anything. Let the game come to you.”


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.